Light aircraft turns toward commercial drone operation

Light aircraft turns toward commercial drone operation

This AIRPROX report from the AAIB has helped solidify some thoughts that have been knocking around in my head for a while now. Add to that the world ATM (Air Traffic Management) Congress starting today in Spain. Conventional air traffic control is a system that is not fit for purpose in 2022 let alone 2100 for the drone world.

No more Mr Nice Guy or Girl. The UAS industry needs to be collecting its own data, in particular, you on the flying field when you fly, Just in case you need it as in this airprox example.

With that data, we need to hold the feet of regulators to the fire.

There is no sensor fusion in the manned aircraft world, towers are not obligated to share radio and radar data with each other. There is no central repository of that data.

There must be dozens of airspace incursions every day but they go unreported because there are not enough sensors out in the field looking at choke points, if the light aircraft is bumbling along at 2000′ radar should see them, 1000′ and below not so much. There is also in many areas no requirement to be talking to air traffic or even the ability to talk to low-level traffic as the tower simply does not have the coverage.

Remote ID (RID) is coming, DJI has already enabled it for Japan, there will be no end of apps decoding the Wifi messages that will identify not only the drone’s position but where you are driving it from as well.

The light aircraft below carried no electronic devices to identify itself.

Time to build a citizen sensor network to share position data from non-electronically cooperative manned into the drone operators’ world.

THE DJI MATRICE OPERATOR reports that, during a flight using a small unmanned aircraft (SUA),
flying a heading of approximately 160° at about 10kt at 400ft AMSL, a light, manned fixed-wing aircraft, which had been flying approximately 500m south of the area of operations on an east-south-easterly heading, made a sudden sharp left banking turn (with 90° of bank) to a northerly heading, flying directly towards the SUA.

The remote pilot disengaged the SUA’s autopilot and descended as per the operator’s emergency procedures, reaching 325ft. As the fixed-wing aircraft approached the SUA’s position with
wings levelling, it then made a right banking turn to the northeast, continuing that heading for a while
before turning left to follow a westerly heading, away from the area of operations and out of sight. The fixed-wing aircraft had been observed a few minutes prior to the occurrence, executing a ‘loop-the loop’, steep climbs and descents, but at a distance (5km or more west of the area of operations). Being
the only aerobatic manoeuvres observed all day, the remote pilot and observer were particularly wary
of this aircraft and monitored its subsequent behaviour but, once they observed it ceasing aerobatic
manoeuvres and flying a stable heading and altitude, assumed it was heading towards Breighton for
landing. As such, both the remote pilot and the observer had been monitoring the fixed-wing aircraft’s
approach, and spotted the emerging conflict immediately.

Both the remote pilot and the observer had been briefed that GA pilots operate unusual (historical) aircraft out of Breighton airfield to the east of the area of operations, and had spotted low altitude flying in the vicinity during the morning hours while conducting ground operations, but no aircraft conducting aerobatics had been observed all day, and no NOTAMs or other alerts were found in the days prior to the flight in relation to planned aerobatics in the area.

The crew had posted an advance flight report for the area of operations through Altitude Angel
the day prior to the flight, covering the hours of 0900 to 1630 local time for the operation. On debrief,
the remote pilot and the observer agreed that while the fixed-wing aircraft’s flying was extreme and
unusual, such a manoeuvre could have been expected to occur at any time, based on the behaviour
observed a few minutes prior. So the crew could have taken the decision to land the SUA earlier and
wait until the fixed-wing aircraft departed the area, but had reasonably decided to continue while
monitoring the fixed-wing aircraft’s behaviour. Both remote pilot and observer suspected the pilot of the fixed-wing aircraft may have spotted and deliberately flown towards the SUA (or over the ground crew), either for a closer look or to practise tight manoeuvring, though this is speculation and the pilot’s intentions weren’t truly known. The right turn made by the fixed-wing aircraft after heading towards the SUA would suggest the pilot either knew of, or became aware of, the SUA’s location.

The pilot assessed the risk of collision as ‘High’.


Factual Background

The weather at Doncaster Sheffield and Leeds Bradford Airports was recorded as follows:
METAR EGCN 071520Z 19009KT 9999 BKN023 19/15 Q1024=
METAR EGNM 071520Z 19009KT 9999 SCT020 18/14 Q1023=

Analysis and Investigation

UKAB Secretariat

In an effort to identify the unknown light-aircraft, a local airfield was contacted. The resident flying
training establishment was discounted, as were 2 of the local pilots that are licensed to conduct
aerobatics. A third, non-resident aerobatic pilot was also contacted, but they confirmed that they did
not fly on the day of the Airprox. It has therefore not been possible to trace the pilot of the unknown

The DJI Matrice 200 and untraced light-aircraft pilots shared equal responsibility for collision
avoidance and not to operate in such proximity to other aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

During the flight, the remote pilot shall keep the unmanned aircraft in VLOS and maintain a thorough
visual scan of the airspace surrounding the unmanned aircraft in order to avoid any risk of collision
with any manned aircraft. The remote pilot shall discontinue the flight if the operation poses a risk
to other aircraft, people, animals, environment or property.


An Airprox was reported when a DJI Matrice 200 and an unknown light-aircraft flew into proximity 3NM
NE of Selby at approximately 1438Z on Thursday 7th October 2021. The DJI Matrice operator was
operating under VLOS and not in receipt of an ATS; the unknown light-aircraft pilot could not be traced.

Gary Mortimer

Founder and Editor of sUAS News | Gary Mortimer has been a commercial balloon pilot for 25 years and also flies full-size helicopters. Prior to that, he made tea and coffee in air traffic control towers across the UK as a member of the Royal Air Force.